That’s the ticket: stopping scalpers from stealing seats

Tori O’Campo

If you attend concerts or sporting events, then you know the struggle of buying tickets from resale websites.  With tickets being resold at three times the price of the original sale price, it is a frustrating process just to be able to see one of your favorite artists or to attend an important game.  In 2016, ticket resale was an $8 billion dollar industry in the United States and the industry continues to grow annually.

This issue is not a modern phenomenon.  From as early as the 1800s, ticket scalping has been a part of the American entertainment culture.  Theatre-goers who were trying to buy tickets to Charles Dickens plays in the 1860s were faced with either the unavailability of tickets or with $5 tickets being resold for $50.  This struggle is still an issue in today’s ticketing world.  

Today, instead of scalpers waiting in a physical line to buy as many tickets as possible, consumers are now faced with a more efficient and more controversial method of ticket scalping.  Ticket scalpers now use “bots” that buy as many tickets online as possible, then resell them at a much higher price on StubHub or other secondary ticket market websites.  These bots are able to bypass ticket quantity limits, create an untraceable algorithm, and override CAPTCHA technology (the box you might have had to click proving that you are human).  

One of Broadway’s biggest shows to date, tickets are so sought after scalped tickets price into the thousands.

One of Broadway’s biggest shows to date, tickets are so sought after scalped tickets price into the thousands.

An investigation done by the New York state Attorney General discovered a case where a single scalper used bots to buy over 1,000 tickets in under a minute for a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden.  If you have ever waited in an online queue to get tickets for your favorite artist or festival the moment they are released, only to find out they sold out in seconds, then bots are most likely to blame.

In an attempt to combat the use of bots, different artists have decided to take action to make it more affordable for their fans to see them. Lin Manuel Miranda, creator and actor of the Broadway musical Hamilton spoke out after TicketMaster estimated that bots bought 60 percent of the most desirable seats for the majority of Hamilton’s shows.  In response, some Hamilton shows required those attending to bring their photo ID, the credit card they paid with, and a confirmation email in order for their tickets to be viewed as legitimate for entry. 

Ed Sheeran is another artist who has made headlines for dealing with ticket scalping. Outraged at the bizarre prices his tickets were being sold for by ticket scalpers, Sheeran cancelled 10,000 tickets and made them only available to fans whose identity had already been verified through TicketMaster’s Verified Fan program.  This program allows TicketMaster to verify the authenticity of the account holders in attempt to block out ticket scalpers.  The Verified Fan system has been used by many artists such as Muse, The 1975, Harry Styles, and Bruce Springsteen.

From a legal standpoint, there has been a long-standing debate on legislation dealing with ticket scalping at both the state and federal level.  In 2016, Congress passed a law called the Better Online Ticket Sales Act or the BOTS Act.  This law put limits on the usage of bots and made it illegal for scalpers to override security systems that are established by online ticketing services.  In California, it is illegal to sell tickets at the venue of the event for more than original price, yet that law is rarely ever enforced. Other states have also established various laws setting regulation on where and when ticket resale is legal, yet the common complaint is that these laws are difficult to enforce and are nearly always overlooked.

So, what can we do?  We can always write letters to or call our Congress representatives to stress the importance of creating effective and enforced scalping legislation.  It is also smart to strategize your ticket buying.  Ideally, you could buy your tickets from the original website at the time of release, but this is not always a realistic plan due to the bots who buy out tickets almost instantly.  One way to get your tickets as cheap as possible is to wait until the day of the concert because resale tickets start to drop their prices.